Israel’s War on Animals: On Gaza’s Pets and Tel Aviv’s ‘Veganwashing’

Palestinians in Gaza and their pets are in constant danger due to Israel's relentless bombardment. (Photo: via Social Media)

By Nurah Tape – The Palestine Chronicle  

Amidst the casualties of the death and destruction caused by Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, are the beloved four-legged creatures that make up the population alongside their human counterparts.

Even the Gaza Zoo in the north of the territory, home to about 100 species of animals, was not spared the wrath of Israeli aggression. Hyenas, wolves, and rare Palestinian foxes were among the victims.

Furry Friends

Whilst Palestinians often use their bare hands to dig through the rubble of destroyed buildings to get to loved ones, the same effort is employed to rescue their furry friends like the many cats who call Gaza home.

There are numerous videos of children showing off their cats, some rescued from the rubble, or others they managed to take along when they fled their homes.

Even though food is scarce in Gaza, there’s always some kept aside for the pets.

In a video posted a few days before he was killed in an Israeli airstrike, photojournalist Montaser Al-Sawaf is seen feeding the local cats amidst the rubble.

“What’s the difference between her and a human?” asks a young boy, Muhammad Nasir, as he cradles his cat, Lulu, in his arms. “It’s just the look and voice, that’s it.”

“A soul, she has one,” he explains. “She has feelings, if she doesn’t have water, she gets thirsty. And she gets hungry, and feels.” 

In another video, a young girl, Sara Tamimi, 13, is stroking her cat. She says, “Simsim is a living thing just like us, who is going through our suffering as well, has fears like we do, and this is not his home, nor is he eating his food.” 

Simsim and other cats provide much-needed solace and distraction for Gaza’s children from the turmoil around them. 

Another video shows a young boy holding his cat, while he says: “The whole world is scared of the war, even the cats.” He said they had found the cat hiding in places “we don’t know about, but this cat revealed them.” 

‘I Feed Them before I Feed Myself’

An elderly woman told Al Jazeera in another video how she risked her life to return to her home after a bombing, to rescue her birds and turtles. “We were bombed in the middle of the night, and I took my daughter and her child and ran.” Whilst on the run, she remembered her birds. “I went back and brought them,” even as a second bomb hit, she says.

“Just as I protect my own soul, I protect them, because they are also spirits (souls), and I fear for them.”

It’s been 21 days since she fled her home, and “life is hard” the woman says, but she manages to find something for her pets to eat. “I feed them before I feed myself.”

‘Killed or Starved to Death’ – Gaza Animals not Spared in Israeli Assault

In another video, Gaza residents are seen providing medical care to a dog who was injured by shrapnel from an Israeli airstrike. 

Horses and donkeys, a common mode of transport in Gaza particularly after the current bombing, have also been victims of the bombardment.  

Bisan Owda is a filmmaker from Gaza, who has now become known for signature line when starting off her videos: “This is Bisan from Gaza, I’m still alive.” 

When she shared on her Instagram account that her home was bombed and she did not know where her three cats were, tens of thousands sympathized with her. 

Despite ‘Veganwashing’, Israel Violates Animal Rights

So it was with concern when Hamas fighters came across a dead dog used by the Israeli military, in one of Gaza’s tunnels. 

In a video released by the Resistance group, the animal is seen on the ground, with camera equipment strapped to it. The dog was reportedly part of a group of soldiers lured into the tunnel and killed. 

Ahmad Safi is the co-founder of the Palestinian Animal League (PAL), a collective of animal rights activists operating throughout the occupied West Bank.

PAL is reported to have operated the first vegan café in the Arab world at one stage, and works with the city of Tulkarm on a trap, neuter, vaccinate, and release (TNVR) program for stray dogs.

Safi raised concerns in a report by The New Arab, in 2019, about what he termed “veganwashing.”

“The Israelis are using veganism and animal rights to clean up their image around the world,” Safi reportedly told the news site. 

Animal rights are not merely a vehicle for achieving national emancipation – they are part and parcel of the same struggle, the report stated.

Another PAL representative, Ahlam Tarayra, reportedly said: “It’s not enough to raise the Palestinian flag.”

“If you want to liberate your land, you need to work on building a strong society that cares for all who inhabit it. Palestine is the people, the animals, the plants, everything.”

Safi told the news site that he witnessed many occasions where Israeli soldiers shot and killed stray dogs who attempted to interact with their military dogs while on their way to conduct raids in his refugee camp.

As far as the PAL is concerned, veganism is not just a diet, but an ethical way of life, based on the principle that violence against all animals – including humans – are evils to be fought against, the report added.

This brings into question the Israeli forces being reported as “the most vegan army in the world” when it is responsible for horrific violence against the Palestinian people, the article stressed. 

This is in reference to an Israeli media report in 2018 that 1 out of 18 Israeli soldiers declared themselves as vegan, with a 20-fold increase in the three years before then.

The Israeli teenager Mia Leimberg cut an interesting figure as she was seen flanked by masked Hamas fighters whilst clutching her pet dog, Bella, when handed over for release in November.  

Just as Bella was “moral support” for her during her captivity, so too are the animals, caught up in this conflict, for the many children trying to survive under Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza.

(The Palestine Chronicle)

– Nurah Tape is a South Africa-based journalist. She is an editor with The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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